Background: Currently most pastoral farmers rely on anthelmintic drenches to control gastrointestinal parasitic nematodes in sheep. Resistance to anthelmintics is rapidly increasing in nematode populations such that on some farms none of the drench families are now completely effective. It is well established that host resistance to nematode infection is a moderately heritable trait. This study was undertaken to identify regions of the genome, quantitative trait loci (QTL) that contain genes affecting resistance to parasitic nematodes.
Results: Rams obtained from crossing nematode parasite resistant and susceptible selection lines were used to derive five large half-sib families comprising between 348 and 101 offspring per sire. Total offspring comprised 940 lambs. Extensive measurements for a range of parasite burden and immune function traits in all offspring allowed each lamb in each pedigree to be ranked for relative resistance to nematode parasites. Initially the 22 most resistant and 22 most susceptible progeny from each pedigree were used in a genome scan that used 203 microsatellite markers spread across all sheep autosomes. This study identified 9 chromosomes with regions showing sufficient linkage to warrant the genotyping of all offspring. After genotyping all offspring with markers covering Chromosomes 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 12, 13, 22 and 23, the telomeric end of chromosome 8 was identified as having a significant QTL for parasite resistance as measured by the number of Trichostrongylus spp. adults in the abomasum and small intestine at the end of the second parasite challenge. Two further QTL for associated immune function traits of total serum IgE and T. colubiformis specific serum IgG, at the end of the second parasite challenge, were identified on chromosome 23.
Conclusion: Despite parasite resistance being a moderately heritable trait, this large study was able to identify only a single significant QTL associated with it. The QTL concerned adult parasite burdens at the end of the second parasite challenge when the lambs were approximately 6 months old. Our failure to discover more QTL suggests that most of the genes controlling this trait are of relatively small effect. The large number of suggestive QTL discovered (more than one per family per trait than would be expected by chance) also supports this conclusion.